How the NRA made it harder to investigate the Boston Marathon bombing

Taggants.  They’re back in the news, after two young men named Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev used homemade bombs, including gunpowder, to blow up nearly 200 people at the Boston Marathon last week.

It took investigators until a few days ago to find out where the Tsarnaev’s got the gunpowder from – a fireworks store in New Hampshire.  Why did it take so long?  Because gunpowder doesn’t contain taggants, a special identifier that can be slipped into gunpowder and which enables federal authorities to track when and where the explosive was made.

But gunpower in the United States doesn’t include taggants.  Why?  Because the NRA and its stooges in Congress have been saying “no” for twenty years.

Now, you might think it odd that the NRA, which normally concerns itself with panicking over any effort to diminish America’s gruesome gun violence, should care about explosives.  Ah, but you see, it’s all about the slippery slope.  First they come for the terrorists, then they come for Uncle Huckleberry and his bazooka.  The NRA also claims the taggants are dangerous.  Uh huh.

And that, sadly, is exactly what happened.  For twenty years the NRA and its friends in Congress have been saying no, and they’ve made it easier for terrorists to get away with murder by making it more difficult for federal authorities to figure out where the explosives came from in the first place, not to mention the time wasted doing such a search when a taggant would permit that time to be spent elsewhere.

As this article from 1995 points out, the NRA didn’t even want the government doing research on taggants.  So they blocked that too.

Boston-Marathon-front-pageAnd as NPR noted earlier this week, those taggants could have helped identify the Boston Marathon bombers a lot sooner, which could have helped thwart their planned attack on Times Square, that we learned about today.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has just introduced legislation to run background checks on anyone buying explosive powder.  The Hill notes that “under current law, people can buy up to 50 pounds of explosive ‘black powder’ with no background check, and can buy unlimited amounts of other explosive powders, such as ‘black powder substitute and ‘smokeless powder.'”

Greg Sargent asked four lead Senators who filibustered gun background checks what they think of having background checks for all explosives.  Three of them got back to him and said they’d have to look it over, a fourth didn’t even bother responding.

It’s one thing for the NRA to be de facto defending the Second Amendment rights of Islamic terrorists to buy the necessary components for a weapon of mass destruction, it’s another for members of Congress to get away with it.  Perhaps it’s time one of our advocacy groups started getting in the face of these members of Congress, and asking them why they want to help the next Tsarnaev-wannabes kill even more people.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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82 Responses to “How the NRA made it harder to investigate the Boston Marathon bombing”

  1. Gold Cup .45 says:

    Maybe you should get out of your Cheetos-infested pajamas and your mama’s basement, then maybe adults will take you and what you think seriously.

  2. bill "THE GRANDFATHER"lorenzo says:

    simple answer–we have the right to bear arms per the constitution and even without it i can by a gun on the street with no problem.if the bad guys have a gun then they can come to my home but never leave. stop being lambs/pussies and protect what is yours at all costs.

  3. zerosumgame0005 says:

    anthrax letters, DC sniper, and lots of other “terror attacks” happened under Bushie the Eternally Stupid, you are just to simple-minded to have paid attention

  4. zerosumgame0005 says:

    your grasp of actual history is as tenuous as your grasp of the English language. He did not “pass” on it he formed a team specifically to hunt him down and he had jailed for LIFE the blind sheik for WTC I. It was Bushie the Enternally Stupid who shut down that team and let OBL get away at Tora Bora.

  5. KingCranky says:

    Like I posted, you can’t, not “won’t” but “can’t”, spin those examples in any kind of way favorable to Bush Jr, otherwise, you would have done so.

    Please do whine some more, proving me right yet again.

  6. KingCranky says:

    Once again, not taking your own advice, apparently your own standards are too tough for you to observe.

  7. JerryA says:

    The NRA’s focus is always been protecting the citizens from government intrusion, to say it protects the criminal element is way over the top and so typical of the emotional libtards. NRA’s opposition to taggants was aimed at protecting the privacy of law abiding reloaders, I was there long time ago when that was brought up. This is the left, assumes that those that want ammunition, firearms, and even re-loading equipment are guilty of some kind of misconduct.

  8. samizdat says:

    Your check from the NRA will arrive in the mail soon. Congratulations for playing.

    Do you really think I give a flying frack about number 4? Or 3? Or 2?

  9. Gold Cup .45 says:

    Spin this.

  10. Gold Cup .45 says:

    Clinton had his chance at OBL and passed. Libs are just bad for this country and more and more people are beginning to see it because of the community organizer made commander-in-chief by the leeches of society otherwise known as the 47% low info voters.

  11. Gold Cup .45 says:

    There were no terror attacks on Americans after 9-11 under the Bush admin. There have been 3 now under Obama. I believe that is what is called by one of the Left’s heroes an “inconvenient truth”.

  12. Gold Cup .45 says:

    Someone once said not to argue with an idiot

  13. ColoradoSean says:

    ugh…where to start?

    1. The powder used in fireworks IS NOT the same type used in firearms. Modern ammunition uses Improved Military Rifle propellant.

    2. Taggants are difficult to disperse precisely in ammo. Some bullets may receive more, some may receive less. Because taggants are inert (they don’t explode) they actually reduce the effectiveness of the ammunition. Modern rifles rely on a certain amount of expected force to work. Altering these balances can cause misfires or jamming of the rifle.

    3. Taggants are not effeciently destroyed on use, this can cause cleaning problems with the fire arm.

    4. Adding taggants to ammunition increases their costs. Manufacturers will pass these costs on to consumers.

    5. The number of bombs being created with ammunition propellant is virtually zero.

    So tell me John Aravosis how is demonizing the NRA in this case going to make anyone safer? Disinformation and deceit does no one any good.

    As a side note roughly 30-60 people every year are killed by bees in this country. That is WAY more than the number of people killed by bombs built from rifle/shotgun ammunition. Given how much more dangerous the Italian Honey Bee is compared to the misuse of ammunition certainly we can expect you to start an Anti-Bee campaign in the near future?

  14. joecooling says:

    “Uncle Huckleberry”lol

  15. zerosumgame0005 says:

    and one of his first actions was to shut down the team Clinton had formed to watch OBL and his plans

  16. zerosumgame0005 says:

    that intel was gathered by the team Clinton set-up to watch OBL and try to see what he was planning. The team Bush shut down within a MONTH of being illegally installed into office.

  17. KingCranky says:

    Like I thought, you can’t dispute the point, especially as you’d be claiming those were terrorist attacks if they occurred during the Obama Administration.

    Also, not surprised you didn’t answer those last two questions, no way to spin such replies in Bush Jr’s favor.

  18. Liberalsaremean says:

    Funny how some people forget things negative to the current administration, but never forget anything the previous administration did.

  19. Liberalsaremean says:

    How long can people keep blaming things on Bush, By that logic, 9/11, DC snipers, anthrax letters are all a result of the Clinton administration.

  20. Liberalsaremean says:

    Have you ever bought a gun from a retailer? They do background checks. If a criminal is buying a firearm from another criminal, do they really care about what the law say’s?

  21. Liberalsaremean says:

    It’s all a big conspiracy. Bush was from Texas. Lets blame it on him, just like everything else

  22. Liberalsaremean says:

    You have no idea what you are talking about. It’s easy to quote articles that are works of fiction. What does Dallas have to do with any of this? What do you know about any of the people involved in this? You should keep your mouth shut unless you know something about the subject.

  23. Gold Cup .45 says:

    The DC sniper attacks? Really??

  24. KingCranky says:

    And here you are, bearing out your own insults at others.

    Do you always debunk yourself, or only on special occasions?

    9/11, the DC Sniper attacks, the anthrax-laced letters.

    Who was President at the time of those attacks, how many victims did they claim?

  25. nicho says:

    It’s Teabagger Tourettes — Noun – Verb – Benghazi!!!

  26. Gold Cup .45 says:

    If Pres Clinton had the character to conduct himself appropriately and then not lied there would have been no “witch-hunt”. You really don’t believe had it been a Republican that the Left wouldn’t have gone after him do you? It cannot be honestly said except by those so ideologically blind that given that the DHS, Patriot Act, the entire infrastructure was already in place that Obama is doing everything right with three successful terrorist attacks in 4 years.

  27. nicho says:

    Actually, “tabaggers” was what they called themselves — until someone informed them what it really meant. Then, they claimed that “liberals” invented it. Teabaggers aren’t known for their intelligence — although they are consistent, in a locked-ward kind of way.

  28. you said that Bush kept us safe. He had the intelligence by summer of 2001, correct? And he ignored it, and his administration did everything they could to obstruct the creation of the commission despite the wishes of the victims’ families. If you’re that determined to let Bush off the hook by blaming everything on Clinton and Obama, just be honest about it. As to your allegations about Clinton’s responsibility, perhaps if the GOP hadn’t gobbled up all of the government’s attention with that ridiculous witchhunt during Clinton’s second term, more would have been done on that front.

  29. JamesR says:

    Gunpowder is incredibly easy to make from scratch. As are lots of other explosive materials. Lots. extracting the powder from fireworks is amazingly primitive, and taggants have NEVER been proposed for fireworks, to my knowledge. Tracking ammo sounds like a great forensic tool, but really? A massive database, paperwork, labor, cost to everyone (and a great boon to the taggant manufacturers) But for what?

    Either we want complete security from everything regardless of price and cost, or we draw sensible boundaries, sensible compromises. Not everyone who sees the taggant inclusion in cartridge ammo as rather useless is an evil NRA stooge.

    And it will not stop a mad bomber – the technology has been around for 600 years. What stops violence is economic justice, people receiving living wages, getting healthcare – reducing the stress and desperation of the populace, THAT reduces all violence via gun knife car fist and bomb.

    Though for the committed bomber there really is NOTHING we can do to prohibit him / her from getting and assembling the material. Nothing. To the extent they wish to avoid being found, again, they could avoid the taggant in lots of ways. Easily.

    In this case the CIA and FBI and Russian authorities fucking communicating would have been worth an ocean of taggants, were they to have been helpful in any way. We already have laws, directives, orders for agencies to cooperate and watch those who truly warrant official curiosity (while I can’t bring more than 4 oz of toothpaste on an airplane.) Somehow taggants do not make me feel any safer than surrendering my toothpaste.

    PS who would trust the Chinese to put the right taggants in their cheap-ass firecrackers? WTF?? I suppose it is theoretically possible, like if we all jumped up and down at the same time we’d make an earthquake.

    Getting the CIA and FBI to buck up and do what they should be doing and watching who they should be watching, that’s worth more of a stink than the hypothetical value of dubious technology, conflated into gun control arguments and dissipated, like a spent taggant. If I were among the people in DHS who dropped this ball I would sure rather we talk about taggants and the NRA than suffer criticism and inquiry eh?

  30. Gold Cup .45 says:

    Thank you.

  31. Gold Cup .45 says:

    It is illogical to believe that all the planning for the 9-11 attack took place from the time Bush took office Jan 2011 to September the 11th rather than at least part of the previous eight years especially given that his Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick is the author of The Wall memo. From Wikipedia :While at the US Department of Justice she authored the “Wall Memo”. If you’ve forgotten this was what prohibited the FBI and CIA from sharing info on terrorism.

  32. Naja pallida says:

    And that giant, multi-billion dollar boondoggle of red-tape bureaucracy hasn’t actually managed to catch a single terrorist who wasn’t an idiot and completely failed in his attempt, thus being caught after the fact. Or that they didn’t entrap by encouraging and offering up support and materials to someone who probably otherwise wouldn’t have ever had the wherewithal, nor capability of being a real threat.

  33. Gold Cup .45 says:

    I will, and I do. I did though double-check myself and found a problem. Someone needs to let Google and Bing know that they don’t have a successful terrorist attack in the USA since 9-11 in their search results.

  34. pappyvet says:

    Finally a post from someone who does not seem to want to kill, destroy or maim progressive minded people. I applaud you on your attitude. Bush did have that briefing,he did do great harm to our country, and as far as being secure is concerned,as long as we are a free people,we will be in danger. . Should the have the FBI more deeply considered the background of Tamerlan Tsarnaev ? Probably. But how much more should the Bush Administration taken seriously the information they were getting? Can we do something about the atmosphere that fosters hatred? Possibly. Starting here at home with one another would be a great starting point. I am sickened when I constantly hear comments like this:

    “We shouldn’t kill ALL the liberals,we should leave 2 alive on every campus as living fossils,” Rush Limbaugh and

    “A great deal of good could be done by arresting Bill Keller having him lined up against a wall and shot.” Melanie Morgan and

    ” Should the entire American Left fall over dead tomorrow, I would rejoice, and order pizza to celebrate. They are not my countrymen; they are animals who happen to walk upright and make noises that approximate speech. They are below human. I look forward to seeing each and every one in Hell.” Red Stae contributor,Thomas Crown
    Decades of this kind of hatred and ignorance. So if now we seem a bit defensive towards the 6000 year old Earth crowd,blame the mote in their eye first.

  35. OOps! I meant to post this: so you can follow what I just said. Sorry.

  36. nicho says:

    The previous administration created the entire infrastructure necessary to combat terrorism AND kept the country safe.

    And yet the biggest loss of life to terrorists on American soil came during the previous administration. Go figure.

  37. Teabaggers….how clever! Did you come up with that one on your own or was it an Obama mandate? Your talking points (Yes I am being “liberally” facetious) are fraught with “unsatisfied” remarks.. Maybe..and I’m just throwing out this possibility…maybe your “left” hand is spending too much time blaming your “right” hand for not getting the job done. (Just a little tip, let your right hand type for a few minutes while the left picks up a little of the slack).

  38. Gold Cup .45 says:

    Lol. As I read these comments it amuses me how predictable some are. Insults, name-calling, intolerance of opposing views, feigned outrage, it’s all here and expected sadly.

  39. nicho says:

    Not only a man-made disaster, but with government complicity. The government was warned this was going to happen and suppressed the warnings.

  40. nicho says:


  41. nicho says:

    Yawn. I think your three-cornered hat with the dangling teabags may be on just a little too tight.

  42. nicho says:

    Well 1st off, the powder came from fireworks bought in new hampshire

    That’s not true. They bought some fireworks in NH, but there wasn’t enough powder to create a bomb.

  43. Yes the NRA is to blame for fireworks made in china and ILLEGALLY brought into MA then being used ILLEGALLY to make ILLEGAL bombs. sure makes sense…….

  44. says the guy absolving Bush of ignoring pre-9-11 intelligence about the attacks on New York and D.C.

  45. do you really deny the findings of the 9-11 commission, corroborated by Condaleeza Rice, that the intelligence was ignored? Are we going to have to fight this battle all over again?

  46. what a breathtakingly un-American, and if you’re a Second Amendment enthusiast hypocritical, sentiment.

  47. Object all you want… THIS IS A LIE:

    “The previous administration created the entire infrastructure necessary to combat terrorism AND kept the country safe.”

  48. Bush started an unnecessary war in Iraq that turned it into a breeding ground for Al Quada, which wasn’t there before we went in because Hussein saw them as a threat to his power and wouldn’t tolerate their presence. Our aggression in Iraq was one of the best recruitment tools for terrorist organizations yet. I’m watching the Right’s rosy revision of Bush’s presidency with a mixture of amusement and horror.

  49. Well 1st off, the powder came from fireworks bought in new hampshire not some random crazy person buying powder kegs full of raw black powder. Now considering that just about every package of fireworks i’ve ever seen in my entire life has “made in china” on it. what difference would this have made it there had been tags to it? it took a week to catch those suspected of it so how much faster did you want them caught? REAL life isn’t a CSI episode where everything is wrapped up in 45 min. Get over yourself and actually learn about firearms and ammunition before you write an article about it.

  50. I watched a video on youtube recently containing live feed of the explosion….in the video there was a fire, then an explosion. The PROBLEM is, that the person who posted this video slows it down and points out that there is something that comes in from the left side of the screen…it’s burning already and when it hits the fire, it all explodes He even backs it up and advances it frame by frame so you can see it. Something stinks on this one as well. I’ll see if I can find the video. Videos like this don’t stick around long since they are mysteriously removed by someone other than the person who posted it.

  51. They are kidding right? HOW may I ask, did not having a background check on gun powder sales HELP the bombers? Sure it would have made the “AFTERMATH”, or FINDING them easier, but it wouldn’t have STOPPED them from getting it! Seriously? Why can’t the left leaning administration and media come up with better stories for their own failures? Let’s all FORGET that there were HUNDREDS of officers and FBI …ON THE SCENE, BEFORE and when this all went down. Why didn’t THEY stop them from setting those bombs? They supposedly had a file on “at least” the older brother, why weren’t they watching him? So now the NRA is responsible for monitoring every event in the US where terrorists MIGHT be hiding and attempting to set bombs and then make sure they didn’t register with anyone to get their ammo or gun powder? Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as blaming someone OTHER than those who were THERE and COULD have prevented the whole damn thing! Drills? Really? Why would they choose a day when there were THOUSANDS of people at an event? They KNEW something was going to happen, I feel it in my gut. And of course they are making crap up to shift blame.

  52. Maybe they should just claim it was a saboteur (I think that’s called the “Union Carbide Defence”.)

  53. Gold Cup .45 says:

    Maybe you missed the media reports that the fed govt was warned by Russia about a Chechnyan becoming radicalized that was on two watch lists and had posted jihadi videos and went to Russia for 6 mos and back before he pulled off the attack?

  54. BeccaM says:

    I’m with you. Even more people dead than Boston. Homes, businesses, and public buildings wiped off the map. A reported 1300 times the allowed amount of ammonium nitrate at the fertilizer plant, and repeated assertions there was nothing there which could explode — an obvious lie.

    And no talk of arrests or imprisonment. I’ll wager anything the owners and operators of the plant face nothing worse than a small fine.

  55. Gold Cup .45 says:

    Apology accepted. And “ilk” is quite different from a-hole.

  56. I’m sorry. I should have called you “you and your ilk.” My apology.

  57. THEyardpilot says:

    All of the people and plans involved were in place before Bush was elected.

  58. THEyardpilot says:

    Except that “tighter” gun control regs that they have proposed would have done nothing.

  59. THEyardpilot says:

    The government set up that program by stealing the money from the people that they needed to be able to invest so they wouldn’t have to be on programs like that when they retired.

  60. THEyardpilot says:

    You just made a great description of the dem/lib/progs and pointed out that you are a bigot at the same time. Interesting.

  61. Gold Cup .45 says:

    Nice. Now name-calling. Very intelligent.

  62. Gold Cup .45 says:

    With all due respect, I am not the one that provided some less than balanced websites or an op/ed to support my view. I make my statements based on my information and belief as an informed citizen. Calling someone you disagree with a liar is not rational political discourse. Jumping to conclusions about my motivations also has nothing to do with rational political discourse. If you are all for rational political discourse your views should reflect that.

  63. I think even an a-hole like you should have every right to shout every stupid thing that comes into his head.

    And then be ready for the consequences when others decide to rebut.

  64. GoBlue says:

    The latest Rand Paul (tossed) word salad: he wrote an op-ed in the Louisville Courier-Journal attempting to explain why he voted against background checks for gun buyers. Well, are there any gun-control measures he does support? Sure: he supports laws against convicted felons buying and owning guns.

    Earth to Rand: how do you know someone IS a convicted felon UNLESS YOU DO A BACKGROUND CHECK???

  65. Gold Cup .45 says:

    And you are not?

  66. okojo says:

    The most dangerous terrorist/mentally ill shooters are those who get into a security cordon and are not planning to leave. The Fort Hood Shooting is an example of this, and it only takes a couple minutes to provoke this type of mayhem. (There was also rapid response) I don’t see how the Obama Administration or any Administration is to blame for the Boston Bombing, given it was local law enforcement dealing with security, and this type of event could have security screening.

    The main tool that the Federal Government can do is the regulation of firearms, and tighter regulations for background checks so Jared Lee Loughner, Cho Seung-Hi and Adam Lanza would be blocked in getting a firearm…

  67. I’ll have some of what you’re smoking. It seems to have helped you miss the horror of the 8 years of Bush…

    Remember those two towers that USED TO stand in New York City? Remember the Daily Briefing that the Bush Admin chose to ignore while those two towers were still standing?

    How about any of this?

    I’m all for rational political discourse, but when you just flat-out LIE, you remove yourself from the realms of reality and rationality and no one can even take you seriously. Who can seriously believe you have our nation’s best interests at heart when you so willfully misrepresent the truth to bolster something as stupid as a political party?

  68. nicho says:

    I’m having a meeting of my ilk this morning. We’ll put it on the agenda. How clever of you to know that today was Ilk Meeting Day.

  69. nicho says:

    If you ask the average Teabagger where Benghazi is on a map, they would locate it somewhere between France and Luxembourg.

  70. nicho says:

    And we’ll keep our government hands off your Medicare too.

  71. okojo says:

    It is ironic, given the Federal Gov’t has become super paranoid about solid fuel propellant, and for years limited its use for rocket clubs. (I think a court case overturned this)

  72. Wow. I’ll bet you tell everyone you’re a firm believer in the Bill of Rights, too.


  74. Usually when you dig into the causes of industrial disasters such as the West Fertilizer Co. explosion you’ll find a rotten safety culture.

    The low quality of the reporting on the West Fertilizer accident bugs me. I have something of a specific interest in this kind of thing, being a chemist, and the vagueness of the reports I’ve read bothers me. Was it an ammonium nitrate explosion, or compressed ammonia, or both? What started the initial fire and how the hell was it allowed to spread until the whole place went up?

  75. Gold Cup .45 says:

    You and your ilk make a compelling argument for abolition of the first amendment.

  76. Gold Cup .45 says:

    You should try to cheer up then.

  77. Drew2u says:

    I’m still waiting to hear who is going to pay for the 11 men killed on the gulf oil explosion. I’m not holding my breath anytime for that, and I won’t be holding my breath for imprisonment on this, another, man-made disaster.

  78. nicho says:

    Teabaggers are such sad, sad people. No imagination. All they can do is memorize and recite talking points — and not even well. Get the Koch Brothers’ balls out of your mouth and do some research.

  79. Gold Cup .45 says:

    John, in your zeal to attach Boston to furthering the gun control agenda by blaming the NRA you are overlooking the fact that the attack in Boston was the latest in a string of failures of the current administration to protect this country and its citizens. Ft Hood, Benghazi, Boston, so far. The previous administration created the entire infrastructure necessary to combat terrorism AND kept the country safe. These facts are undeniable and this president is an abject failure in this regard.

  80. nicho says:

    Slightly, but not entirely, off topic:

    The explosion and fire in Texas that killed at least 14 people was a criminal act — and that fact is being covered up (or simply ignored) by the corporatist media.

    Everyone from plant owners to criminal regulators killed those victims as surely as the douchebag brothers killed the people in Boston.

    “Don’t forget, unlike Hurricane Sandy, this is a man-made disaster,” Kaufman declares. “The bottom line is: It’s a law enforcement, criminal violations issue, that resulted in needless loss of life. These guys in Texas broke the criminal statutes of the United States, but the media and Texas politicians are pretending it’s a regulatory policy issue. It’s like Alice in Wonderland—or maybe Dallas in Wonderland.”

  81. milli2 says:

    Uncle Huckleberry, lol.

  82. caphillprof says:

    John, I am happy that you acknowledge the Second Amendment rights of the Tsarnaev brothers to make and bear incredibly explosive devices.

    We might benefit from a closer analysis of what the NRA does. Sure it will fight to the death to protect Americans’ right to bear arms, weapons of mass destruction, even personal nuclear devices. But it also fights reasonable liability for the manufacturers and purveyors of such “arms.” The fight against taggants has nothing to do with bearing gun powder and everything to do with protecting the manufacturers from liability.

    If somebody steals my car and runs you over, you’ll look to my automobile liability insurance.
    If somebody steals my gun and injures you, you’ll look to . . . . . . . . . . . .

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